If not now, when?

One American woman. Twenty acres and a 1650 farmhouse in Tuscany. Random introspection and hilarity, depending on the day.

30 December 2006

"Come for dinner!"

Is what I said, casually and yet excitedly, to my friend il Cavaliere -- the closest thing I have to a guardian angel here -- my 'adopted Italian father,' as we refer to him. "Come, and bring your wife... we'll have drinks here, then go to Il Cacciatore for dinner, and have a wonderful night, our own version of New Year's Eve. Stay over and make a night of it in the countryside!"

And so it was a plan. Except, when you're the adopted daughter, 'the principessa,' as he refers to me, the plan is mostly out of your hands.

It should be noted at this point that Il Cavaliere is an amazing cook. He teaches! cooking lessons! for a living! No foolin', he knows his way around a kitchen - (like, as I have mentioned before, most Tuscan men that I know do.) And the reason that I invited them to dinner at Cacciatore is because... well, to be honest, the pressure of cooking for an Italian that teaches cooking lessons is just a LITTLE too much to take.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a pretty decent cook. To my knowledge I've never poisoned anyone, and plates usually get cleaned. I'd even say I'm a little adventurous - willing to scratch my head, squint at the fridge and available ingredients, and figure something out. Except I'm an AMERICAN cook. Here, there are specific ways things are done, and ways things are NOT done. And, as a non-Italian (no matter how many years I live here!), there are things that genetically they think we cannot do quite right. Even from region to region, or town to town WITHIN a region, the rules change. What one Italian teaches you may be sacrilege to another.

I heard a heated argument, for example, on whether or not rosemary is used in a traditional castagnaccio recipe. People from the Casentino mountains say yes, Florentines say no. Who can keep it all straight?!? You can see why I don't feel the need to toss *my* humble cuisine into centuries-old arguments.

So, the plan was set. They'd come Friday night.

Having made great time from the city, they arrived at 6, laden down with bags. Bottles of prosecco! Two jars of homemade sugo di anatra! (pasta sauce made from duck), fresh Pici pasta (my favorite!), A silver kettle, filled with traditional white beans that had been cooking all day, and a large butchers' package of the most beautiful pork chops I have ever seen.

Yes, they came for dinner ... bearing ... dinner.

'Ma, e' molto meglio mangiare a casa, e tutto gia' sono pronti' (But it's much better to eat at home! Everything is already ready!) was the explanation I got.

I smiled, hopelessly. Sometimes, it's just nice to be ... cooked for, taken care of.
My week had been pretty spectacularly lousy, though they would have no way of knowing that. And to have friends whirl in and bring dinner - well, sometimes, you don't know what you need until it arrives. And though I was just a little humiliated, I have learned that protesting when someone does something nice, from the heart, for you - even if it is rooted in a total lack of faith in your cooking ... well, to say anything other than a quiet thank you would be more than just a little rude.

And I said to myself, "Self: Say thank you." (I'm getting better at just saying 'thank you' when people do nice things for me.) "Show him where the flour and oil is kept. And shut up and drink your prosecco."

The pici with duck sauce was AMAZINGLY good. (The duck was leftover from what we didn't eat on Christmas day, pulled apart into shredded pieces and cooked with just a little bit of spices and a hint of tomato. Not gamey at all, just delicious. I'm getting braver cooking game, but not quite THAT good yet.) The pork chops - lightly floured, salted, peppered, and cooked in a wine reduction, were yummy - both yesterday AND today.

I sheepishly admit that we absolutely ate better than we would have at the restaurant, or if I had been cooking. Plus, I learned some new techniques, which I can try out on my AMERICAN friends... because I can dazzle Americans with my Italian cooking, but I have learned to leave the Italians to their own devices.

So the next time someone accepts a dinner invitation, and asks what they can bring, I highly recommend you say with a twinkle in your eye, "oh, heck ... Bring dinner! I think a pasta and a meat course would do quite nicely, thank you! Shall we say, six-ish?"


Anonymous Judith in Umbria said...

I refused to cook Italian for Italians for a year. Then they had to take their chances with everybody else. Yes, there were rocky points, like when one guy reminded me three times not to overcook the pasta--beast! I do NOT overcook pasta.
Now they like equally my Italian food, my foreign food (but not cole slaw) or my fusion food.
One fellow said, "You are a good cook, and not just good for a foreigner." I still laugh at that. Poor Italians who truly believe that to leave Italy means to eat like animals.

9:42 AM  

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